Prior experience drove my action. It was a gamble, but one I thought was very low risk. I slapped the squad leader, open handed, and barked. “What part of my position confuses you, soldier.”
One of the warriors let out a growl and shifted his foot, as if to step toward me, but Bÿglar barked something in goblin and positioned his spear at the man’s throat. Then he said in an even, but forceful tone. “Anyone who has a problem with my captain gets to wait for the rest of us on the other side of the far river.”
The one who growled stared at Bÿglar, anger and resentment warred on his face, but his training and the rank on my shoulder carried a significant amount of weight.
It was the squad leader who saved the situation, ultimately. He straightened his shoulders and saluted. Even though we were of different legions, I did still out rank him.
“We were told to take this position and watch for any who would seek to disrupt the surrender of this fortress.”
“On who’s command?” I asked, lowering my mace back to my side and standing my ground. It only took a moment of officer glare which I’d learned from that old, grizzled hob sergeant back at wizard Tim’s keep to prove my final point. The squad leader took a step back and glanced at his men, shaking his head. The tension fell away immediately. I glanced at Bÿglar who lowered his spear and stepped back to stand at my side, but leaving enough room for both of us to use our weapons should the need arise.
“How did you come here?” I asked, returning the hob’s salute. Always respect and honor. That is the trick with these proud people.
The squad leader nodded, acknowledging my return salute and stood at attention, his head high, and rattled off details.
“We were heading down the old trade road between Farspire Keep and Black Crescent lake roughly a week ago when our commander ordered us to reverse march and head here. There is a wizard that he has had dealings with and scuttlebutt was that he had shown up in the night and convinced Commander Blüd Hammer to come and assist in the taking of this fortress.”
I nodded. “And the frog wizards? Any sign of them?”
The squad leader shook his head. “They all look alike to me.” He paused. “Well, all but one. There was a mottled purple fellow who was leading the frogs in their surrender.”
“How does he fare?” I asked, suddenly worried for Nebuchadnezzar well being.
“Safe as I saw him last,” he replied. “Had a dab hand at keeping his people calm. How many warriors do you have with you?” he asked.
I looked at Bÿglar who only shrugged. This was my command, after all.
“I’ll introduce them to you,” I said, grinning. I stepped out of the room and waved the others forward. Once they were all in the room, the squad leader goggled.
“Is this all that survived?” he asked, horrified.
“Yes,” I said gravely. “We lost two. A lizard folk warrior and a fairy”
The warriors laughed, but stopped when I glared at them.
“Is he serious, or mad?” the squad leader asked Bÿglar.
“What is your name?” I asked the man, cutting across any reply Bÿglar may have thought to make.
“Squaddie Kregal, sir,” he snapped off with another salute.
I saluted back. “We have slaves to free, Kregal. I’ll need your squad to help me get our people out of the dungeons.”
I turned to Bÿglar. I need you and Kregal here to go with Bob and see to things outside.” He saluted which garnered an approving look from Kregal. ” Bob, can you see about finding Nebuchadnezzar and make sure that the surrender is going well and that no one is slaughtering the frogs?”
Bob smiled at me and gave me the same salute Bÿglar had. I squinted at him, but he moved across the room, ignoring me further.
“Liz, I want you with me for sure. Rufus,” I pointed to the weasel gnome. “I’d like you to accompany Bob. If you find Tim, tell him he and I will be having words as soon as I get out of here.”
“What about Leviathus?” he asked, his voice dripping venom.
“Do not kill him,” I said. He looked very disappointed.
“I want the frog wizards alive as well,” I said to the entire room. “I want to know how we free the lizard folk from this binding they have over them.”
Sparkle went to stand beside Liz, waiting for me.
I motioned for the hob warriors and after one moment of hesitation, their squad leader, Kregal, motioned for them to follow me.
“Obey him as you would obey me,” he growled. “Do not embarrass Broken Finger.”
As a unit the dozen hobs grunted, “Ooo, yah,” and moved out into the hall in two lines. I was very impressed by the size of them. Very large men.
I went to Liz who had not said anything about Jira dying and took her hand in mine.
“Let’s go free your people,” I said. “They can go outside, can they not?”
She looked at me, her beautiful eyes shining with unshed tears. I saw the pain in them, knew the agony she was internalizing, the blame she was building, brick by brick around her heart. I could not stand that. Not with her.
I pulled her around and drew her into my arms. “Life is a series of choices,” I whispered to her. “Jira and your father made their own choices. It is our lot to honor those decisions and make our way in the world despite the pain and loss.”
She squeezed me, her strong arms clinging to my back and she wept into my shoulder. No one said a word as we stood amongst the hob warriors. Sparkle waited at the other end of the hall, keeping her head to the side, giving us space.
“I’m sorry,” I whispered. “I should’ve been there for you and your family sooner. This is my failure.”
She dug her claws into the point where my back plate intersected with my breastplate, making sure to poke the tender flesh underneath my armor.
“You are a fool,” she said, nuzzling my neck for a moment, then turning and walking to Sparkle.
I let them go ahead, heads bent in whispers as they went forward to the prisons. The hobs moved with me when I followed.
So much loss, so many mistakes. I just prayed that we could salvage something from this unmitigated disaster.